Ferdinand Porsche's Race Car Hits Road For First Time In 100 Years

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This Austro-Daimler ADS-R race car is the oldest drivable vehicle at the Porsche Museum.

Long before Ferdinand Porsche put his name on a sports car, he was the technical director at Austro-Daimler. While there, he oversaw the creation of the ADS-R race car, affectionately known as Sascha. After a months-long restoration, the Porsche Museum has finally taken its oldest driveable vehicle out, driving it to its birthplace in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.

The ADS-R was created because Porsche wanted to build a small and lightweight sports car. Spurred on by his friend and Austro-Daimler co-owner, Alexander Joseph Graf Kolowrat-Krakowsky (also known as Sascha), Porsche created a production version and a race car, the ADS-R.

Because the executive board was skeptical of the project, Kolowrat-Krakowsky financed the project himself, leading Porsche to name the racer after him. With a 1.1-liter four-cylinder producing around 50 horsepower, the 1,318-lb ADS-R was sprightly for its time, with a top speed of 89 mph.

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In 1922, four examples debuted at the Targa Florio, one of the most iconic races of the 20th century. All four were left unfinished and were readied just before the race. Interestingly, Porsche painted the aluminum bodies red to reduce the risk of being spotted and stolen in Italy. Kolowrat-Krakowsky later added the playing card symbols to ensure the cars could be easily identified.

Three vehicles would compete in the 1.1-liter class, with two clinching a 1-2 victory in the class. The third, driven by Kolowrat-Krakowsky, dropped out due to engine problems. The fourth car sported a larger 1.5-liter engine and was pitted against faster vehicles in the open class. Overall, it finished in 19th place.

While that doesn't sound impressive, the Italian newspapers fawned over the ADS-R. Why? Despite their compact engines, they stood their ground against rapid machines; the 1.1-liter models averaged 34 mph for the duration of the race, just five mph behind the overall winner, a Mercedes with a considerably more powerful engine.

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Despite this incredible success, the Austro-Daimler board remained unmoved even after the ADS-R racked up several more wins. Sadly, the production version was rejected for financial reasons, and the only remaining examples are today's prototypes. Of course, Ferdinand Porsche was determined to create a lightweight sports car and did so with the 356. It's a shame he never saw his name on the 911.

It seems the ADS-R is still a delight to drive, even after all these years and progress. Jan Heidak, the youngest employee at the Porsche museum workshop, is the only person who has driven the vintage racer since its restoration. "Sascha was built for other road surfaces. We actually have too much grip, are too fast, and have high forces," says Heidak. "But it's still a lot of fun. You can feel every vibration. Hear how the engine's performing. There's no power steering, so you need a lot of strength and sensitivity."

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Carrying out mechanical work, let alone driving it, is complicated. Kuno Werner, Porsche Museum Workshop manager, explains that the team had to think like the engineers when working on the vehicle. They even had to bring a pre-war engine specialist in for assistance, while special tools had to be fabricated to carry out restorative work.

If you want a raw and visceral driving experience, the ADS-R aims to please. With no lights or seat belts, it doesn't even cover the basic tenets of safety. But this was when racing drivers wore a leather cap for protection. Driving it is a tricky affair, as the accelerator is in the middle, with the clutch to the left and the brake on the right. "We didn't realize just how much there was to understand about Sascha until we got started on the project."

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